Five pristine Irish islands to get away from it all  February 7th, 2019

 

Ireland’s isles have rugged charm and their varying terrains entice a range of acitivities. To get the most out of your trip, ditch the traditional hotel stay for a campervan or motorhome hire. Don’t be held back by check-out times, hotel room views or itineraries!


1. Aran Islands

Inisheer Harbor. Image by terryballard on Visualhunt / CC BY


Why

Set off the west coast of Ireland, at the mouth of Galway Bay and Doolin, Aran Islands is an archipelago of three rock-strewn islands. Despite its collectively compact size, the unspoiled isles provide a wealth of attractions and are well worth a visit if you enjoy big skies, unmatched views, and the great outdoors. Relish a pristine slice of Ireland many thought was lost. Inis Mór is the bustiest and most significant island. It is most hectic during June, July and August when day-trippers flock in from Galway. Inis Meáin is the most tranquil isle of the three, and great for meandering roads, sheltered walkways, and rocky hillsides. The island of Inis Oírr is the smallest and the most intimate of the three islands. All sites and sights are easily accessible, and you can explore the beautiful archipelago on foot. The islands hold the highest number of Irish speakers compared to anywhere else on the planet: however, the natives are comfortable with speaking English too. Pack in an Irish phrasebook to try out a few words during your visit, and embrace the beautiful language. There is a variety of camping and glamping site on Inis Mór –the largest of the three islands. Wild camping may be difficult owing to the hard ground and unpredictable weather conditions. Hop on a ferry departing from Rossaveel or Doolin, and explore the Aran Islands for a taste of tranquil lifestyle, local traditions, stunning vistas and thriving wildlife.

 

What to see

 

Dún Aonghasa World Heritage Site

View from Dún Aonghasa. Image by Andrea Schaffer on Flickr

 

The spectacular Dún Aonghasa World Heritage Site is the oldest known human settlements in Ireland. The remarkable Bronze Age structure extends over fourteen acres and is thought to have been constructed by local inhabitants as far back as1,500 BC. The site’s precise location continues to baffle archaeologists who speculate it may have held some spiritual significance. Entail the help of a local professional to ensure zero damage to the imposing edifice. A guided tour generally costs a modest fee and profits go towards the maintenance of the site and funding ongoing research

 

The Worm Hole

Image by The Meat Case on Visual Hunt / CC BY

 

The Worm Hole must be seen to be believed! The perfectly formed rectangular plunge pool is the centre of the famed Red Bull Cliff Diving series, and is an excellent location for brave adventurers to dive in and savour a refreshing dip! Once you’ve freshened up in the waters, take a fifteen-minute stroll along a tranquil walkway, away from Dún Aonghasa.

 

Basking Sharks

Image by rossbeane on Visual hunt / CC BY-SA

 

Head to the Aran Islands to see basking sharks in the waters around the islands. The sharks grow to lengths of 10 meters and are only second to the whale shark in size. These gentle giants only feed on plankton and pose no threats to humans. They remain unbothered by people or boats, and often swim within yards of ferries, making it an ideal photo opportunity for tourists.

 

2. The Skelligs

Skellig Michael at sunrise. Image by georgekarbus on Instagram

 

Why

The mesmerizing rocky peaks of The Skelligs rise out of the Atlantic, providing outdoor enthusiasts with a dramatic history and jaw-dropping views. The isles of Skellig Michael and the Little Skellig were propelled into the spotlight after its feature in the popular Star Wars movies The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. The isles once represented extreme devotion and Christendom and housed a group of monks who settled on the Skellig Michael and founded a monastery there during the 6th-century. The monks weathered the raw Atlantic elements and lived on a diet of boiled puffin, and other homegrown food. The island was abandoned during the 12th century owing to changes in the Irish church. A limited number of boats make the trip out to the islands, and only 180 visitors are allowed in on any given day. You’re advised to book your tickets well in advance. Hop in a boat departing Bunavalla Pier or drive to Port Magee in your campervan hire, and take a quick boat ride from there.

 

What to see

The Monastery

Monastery on Skellig Michael. Image by TristanReville on Visual Hunt / CC BY-ND

 

Once you arrive on the island, you have two and a half hours to explore the island. There is only one way up to the monastery and guides are stationed along the path to ensure you are safe while teaching visitors about the islands rich history. Pay heed to the safety warnings as two visitors got too close to the edge and fell to their deaths. The further you climb up the 600 steep and uneven steps, the better the view gets. Once you reach the top, you’ll have spectacular views back to mainland Ireland and the opportunity to view the 6th-century Christian monastery. For many years, Christian monks lived off the land and resided in stone beehive huts. The complex also includes a walled garden, a graveyard, and two oratories. There’s ample time to take photographs and walk several paths featured in the Star Wars movies.

 

The Wildlife

Puffins on Skellig Michael. Image by amerune on Visual hunt / CC BY

 

Michael Skelligs and its twin are two important sites for breeding seabirds. The larger island houses species like fulmars, puffins, guillemots, and kittiwakes. The smaller island holds the second largest colony of gannets and a variety of birdlife.

 

Drive the Ring of Skellig

Skellig ring, Kerry Co, Ireland. Image by raphael.chekroun on Visual hunt / CC BY-ND.

 

The ring of Skellig is an isolated 18km drive encompassing untamed landscapes, ancient attractions, and picturesque villages. Just north of Waterville on the Ring of Kerry lies a road marked Skellig Ring. Wander off the beaten path as you drive past tiny villages like Dungaegan, rumble up meandering lanes and down sheer mountains. Stop for a bite at Ballinskelligs, wander into regions Blue Flag beach, or explore the timeworn McCarthy Castle. Head into Portmagee to lounge on the beautiful St. Finian’s Bay, or catch a wave. View the lovely Skelligs Islands from afar, or visit Skelligs Chocolate Company to secure artisan Irish chocolates. You can visit Valentia Island or head over to Caherciveen. Don’t forget to stop and take in the striking landscapes of the Iveragh Peninsula, and the Atlantic Ocean crashing against the rocks.

 

3. Blasket Islands

 

Image by georgekarbus on Instagram

Why

Set at the tip of Dingle Peninsula, the Blasket Islands are of six charming isles, which once housed over a hundred and sixty locals. The government evacuated the remaining twenty-two citizens in 1953 owing to severe living conditions. Today the island resembles a ghost town and contains over 1,100 acres of lush mountain landscape which protects a flourishing community of flora and fauna. Take a ferry to Great Blasket, the largest of the six Blasket Islands from Dunquin Harbor and delight in a day of whale watching, walks by the beach, hikes and heaps of incredible outdoor adventures!

What to see

Wildlife

Swim with grey seals at the Blasket Islands. Image by georgekarbus on Instagram

 

The Blasket Islands offer adventurers and nature lovers the ideal settings to observe flora and fauna and presents a near-endless supply of wild, mountainous terrain to wander across while discovering thriving Irish history. Enjoy superb walks along green paths or enjoy a longer hike around the back of the island for breathtaking panoramas over the enclosing islands. Pack in a delicious picnic and trek up to ‘Cro’, the highest point on the island at 292 meters. Pack your field glasses to observe a wealth of extensive birdlife and sea life on and around the isle. View puffins, choughs, and gannets soaring through the air, or crunch along the beach to see seals nipping, barking and basking on the beach. Take a boat ride around the island watch bottlenose dolphins, minke whales, basking sharks, and porpoises.

 

Wild camp to your heart’s desire!

All set up for a wild camping adventure with panoramic views. Image by podsireland on Instagram

 

The lack of electricity, infrastructure and mod-cons make the Blaskets an ideal location to pitch a tent and say hello to a life ‘off the grid’. Wake up amid rugged beauty, cook a meal with the sounds of the crashing Atlantic below, and spend your days wandering across unfenced green roads and pristine beaches. Ensure you are well prepared for the unpredictable weather and carry in an adequate supply of drinking water for your camping duration. The local weather patterns frequently impact the daily ferry service, so check if the ferryboat is operating in advance.


4. Garnish Island

 

Image by gus.grizzwald on Instagram

Why

Located in the protective harbour of Glengarriff in Southwest Ireland, Garnish Island packs in quite a punch for a relatively small island. Formerly privately owned by John Annan, the island is best known for the strikingly modelled gardens. The owner at the time, John Annan Bryce, worked closely with the garden designer and architect Harold Peto to bring his visions of trimmed Edwardian gardens to life! The island was donated to the Irish public in 1953 by Bryce’s son. Ferry services to the island leave from Glengarriff from March to October.

What to see

Watch out for seals on Seal Island

Local inhabitants busy doing nothing! Image by Bobby McKay. on Visual Hunt / CC BY-ND

 

Observe a large colony of sleepy-eyed seals on your way to the Garish Islands. The seals remain unperturbed by passing visitors and swim alongside ferries, bask on the rocks or playfully pose for photographs!

 

Explore the Italianate Gardens

The Italianate Gardens, Garnish Island. Image by mattgwyn on Instagram

 

Nestled within the protection of hundred-year-old woodlands sprawls the exquisite Italian Gardens which brim with vivid and exotic plants. Visit during May and June to view bright bursts of colour from the blooming azaleas and rhododendrons. Climbing plants, perennials plants and choice shrubs bring vivid tinges of colour during the midsummer periods from June to August.

 

Stroll through Bryce House

Bryce House, Garnish Island. Image by lovingcork on Flickr

 

Annan Bryce was a British MP who purchased the island in 1910 and entailed the help of Ainsworth Peto to sculpt the garden buildings and exquisite gardens. Bryce’s cottage is restored to its original Edwardian character to bring the story of the founder to life.

 

Bring out the Camera

Image by jenniferpkc on Instagram

 

The elegant gardens are a photographers delight and offer stunning views across Glengarriff and Bantry Bay. Take your time capturing the serenity y of the gardens with its clock tower, Grecian temple, Italian pavilion and a gleaming pool.

 

5. Achill Island

 

Image by georgekarbus on Instagram

Why

If you’re heading toward Westport and Mayo, you must include Achill Island to your trip. The isle is the largest off the coast of Ireland and is perhaps the easiest to visit owing to the Michael Davitt Bridge connecting the island with the mainland. Human settlements here trace as far back as the Neolithic Age. Bite into the isles incredible history when you stroll past abandoned villages, crumbling forts, megalithic tombs and majestic churches. Presently the population on the island stands at 2,700 residents and produces famed offerings of the freshest Atlantic seafood. The pubs and bars offer the customary Irish welcome. Discover five stunning Blue Flag beaches, towering mountains, stunning vistas, and the spectacular offering of outdoor activities including windsurfing, kitesurfing, swimming, canoeing and kayaking.

What to see

Snorkel on Keem Beach

A True Paradise. Image by andybewer on VisualHunt / CC BY

 

The white sands and azure waters of Keem beach look like it belongs on a tropical setting – but, here there are amid Irelands jagged cliffs! You can explore the seas, and swim with dolphins on the Blueway snorkel trail. The beach rests in the middle of the towering cliffs of Croaghaun, and Benmore, which presents adventurers with a spectacular viewpoint and l ideal location fora hearty picnic.

 

Hike the Slí Grainne Mhaol

Image by celticpostcards on Instagram

 

Take in the panoramic views of Achill Sound, Clew Bay and other historical spots along this beautiful walking route. The 6.7 km trail begins at Patten’s Public House and takes an estimated two and half hours to complete. The fantastic views make a magnificent setting to throw down a blanket and enjoy a welcome picnic.

 

Cycle along the Great Western Greenway Trail

Great Western Greenway Cycling & Walking Trail. Image by jeff_and_menina on Instagram

 

The Great Western Greenway extends over 42 km and provides hikers and walkers with a wealth of scenic trails, and attractions to explore.

 

Visit a deserted village

Deserted farm dwellings on Slievemore, Achill Island. Image by sineadmaehorner on Instagram

 

The lonely remains of Slievemore village will fill you with a sense of eeriness. Eighty empty stone cottages rest at the foot of Slievemore Mountain and once inhabited at several points throughout history. The motive for abandoning the village remains unclear.

 

Discover a secret garden


Achill Secret Garden extends over three acres and presents a sensory disharmony of scents and colours. Stroll past the flower-laden garden made up of eight chambers, or treat yourself to coffee, tea and cakes at the Boathouse.
We encourage you to pack in camping gear, and set about discovering these pristine islands in Ireland. You’ll have an incredible opportunity to wander off the beaten path, explore breathtaking sceneries plus embrace Irish culture and history away from the bustling cities and tourist-packed attractions.

 

 

 

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